Kendrick Lamar - DAMN
On his third album Kendrick finds the perfect middle ground between his personal problems and political messages, It takes the heart and soul of Good Kid Mad City and mixes it with the hard hitting nature of To Pimp A Butterfly effortlessly.
“So I was taking a walk the other day….”
Wow, so it’s taken me nearly a month to finally write my thoughts on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN’, that’s for a good reason though, I really wanted to digest the album and give it the time it deserves, I believe with all of Kendrick’s releases that they really grow over time, a lot of people have already analysed the album deeply, going into the themes and hidden messages scattered throughout in intricate detail, this is a broader review on the album in general and how it fits into Kendrick’s masterful discography in general, so let’s begin….
It’s fair to say ‘DAMN’ came straight out of left field, little promotion and a surprise release all within a couple weeks of Kendrick dropping “The Heat Part 4”, there was always one big question leftover from ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ and it’s accompanying ‘untitled unmastered’, that was simply “What direction does Kendrick possibly go in next?”, he has already made the perfect political protest album in the form of TPAB and one of the best classic rap album’s of our generation, the angry and personal GKMC, naturally we now have ‘DAMN’, it should have seemed obvious at first, but the answer is to take the best of what he has and mix them.
'BLOOD’ opens the album with a gunshot and a poem, at first it seems almost a throw away intro but it’s significance can only be expanded on after the album has finished, we’ll touch on this later. ‘DNA’ is the first proper track and damn indeed, Kendrick goes in hard, we haven’t seen rhymes this fast from K Dot since ‘m.a.a.d city’ it’s a welcome return to the sort of rap which made him a star on the scene in the first place and just wait for that tone shift just over half way through.
‘YAH’ is a much slower tempo, but it’s real gem is in it’s lyrics, Kendrick goes in on the corrupt agenda of FOX News, who’s ridiculous headlines and stories about Kendrick causing racism just to boost some ratings for the network are rightfully called out, as he says’ he’s no politician but he certainly has a point and a cause unlike most in government.
Early highlight and first sighting of new persona Kung Fu Kenny comes on ‘ELEMENT’, what a track! It’s up there with his control verse. “my enemy won’t catch a vibe this year” and from that moment Kendrick goes hard on all his competition, the beginning of the track is stripped back, the lyrics are booming and all you can hear is Kenny calling out his rivals, oh and that chorus is most definitely sexy.
The following track ‘FEEL’ is a perfect antithesis, instead of allowing rage to engulf him and his competitors, Kendrick now finds himself literally discussing his feelings over the course of 3 minutes, “Ain’t nobody praying for me” echoes around your ears before one of his most honest and thoughtful passages of his career, he pours his heart over various issues of the street, the music and ultimately the world with one overlapping message, ‘who’s actually feeling/praying for him though?’
‘LOYALTY’ see’s the bad girl from Barbados finally team up with Kendrick, you’ll be surprised to know this is the first time Rihanna has shared a track with Kendrick and it is most defintiley long overdue, ‘ANTI’ was the critical peak for Rihanna and an impeccable album and you could see this track fitting on either of the records as Rihanna swaps melodies for bars as she successfully takes on a verse of her own, it’s chorus is bound for chart success and that “I’m a savage, I’m a asshole, I’m a king!” line has been stuck in my head for weeks now.
‘PRIDE’ and ‘HUMBLE’ are a perfect pairing, taking on directly contrasting meanings both to devastating effect, the former is laid back and a chilled effort, with beautiful verses celebrating your flaws ‘See, in the perfect world, I would be perfect, world’ and “Love's gonna get you killed but pride’s gonna be the death of you and you and me” are great examples of that, it’s really thought provoking and ironically humble from Kendrick, meanwhile the latter is loud, brash and violent. You’ve most likely already heard the no.1 charting hit, it goes quick on the verses and it’s chorus is nothing short of an anthem, shouts of “Bitch sit down! be humble” are sure to dominate universities and festivals over the summer. I don’t want to disregard it’s content as just throwaway bragging however because he does makes a brilliant point on the overuse of photoshop in our society.
The second half of the album definitely switches it up, It’s got some deep, long cuts, the first being ‘LUST’ a 5 minute ode to repetition and meaninglessness, it’s a insight into our society and our reliance on lust and how it consumes us, it’s a very suitably dark track that at times is even uncomfortable. ‘LOVE’ is yet again another example of how this album pairs opposites together, I see the album as seven pairs of tracks rather than 14 individual ones. Zachari really shines on the track, his chorus is almost dream-like, his soft vocals carry the song along, it’s a great spot from Kendrick who has placed a bright light on the upcoming vocalist. it’s almost dream like and a highly pleasurable track to listen to.
‘XXX’ is as political as the album gets, Kendrick has a lot to say about Trump and the state of this new America, it’s a brutal analysis of the world in it’s current state, with the verses being rapped over deafening police sirens;
“I’ll chip a nigga, then throw the blower in his lap,
Walk myself to the court like, "Bitch, I did that!”,
Ain't no Black Power when your baby killed by a coward,
I can't even keep the peace, don't you fuck with one of ours,
It be murder in the street, it be bodies in the hour”
That paragraph itself is just a small segment of how deep the issues on the streets are and Kendrick sums this up in heartbreaking detail, and yes U2 are on the track and yes it does fit well into the track, how on earth do you follow that? well with an 8 minute epic titled ‘FEAR’, an introspective of three different terrors across his life, Kendrick speaks in detail of fear experienced at ages 7, 17 and 27, it slows down the record considerably but tells a remarkable story and shows a very private man’s, deepest feelings blown up for all to hear.
‘GOD’ is most definitely ‘DAMN’s’ answer to ‘i’, it’s a wonderful track that is one of the most versatile Kendrick has made in his career, somehow turning you up and chilling you out all at the same time, it’s a much needed celebration for Kendrick, “Don’t Judge Me!” shouts King Kenny, over a soulful beat, he’s in fact merely taking a well deserved congratulatory moment on his career, because like he said “This is what god feels like”, it’s as upbeat as the album gets and is perfectly placed as the album comes to a close.
Final track ‘DUCKWORTH’ (taken of course from Kendrick's real surname) is one hell of a story, you just have a feeling that it’s too good to be true surely, but of course like Kendrick’s extraordinary rise to one of our generations greatest lyricists, it’s an unbelievable tale, a miracle and something that feels like fate. I’m talking about the subject matter in the track of course, the story of how his father working at KFC somehow strikes up a unlikely friendship with Top Dawg (who’s planning on robbing that same branch) when Kendrick was only young, instead of dying in an armed robbery, their friendship years ago allowed both to have the life they life now, Top Dawg is not in jail, Ducky is alive and years later it would turn out that they would meet again, with Ducky’s son… Kendrick in the recording booth. what a story…. what a track!, That brings me to the ending of the track, in a genius twist the same gunshot from ‘BLOOD’ can be heard and in an instant the album reverses in on itself before looping to that opening line
All of Kendrick’s album’s tell a story I feel, their mean’t to be experienced as one whole piece but with ‘DAMN’ I believe this couldn’t be more true, it is by far Kendrick’s most cohesive and compelling piece of art he has made, it’s both commercially compelling and deep enough for multiple run throughs, it’s already been translated fantastically live resulting in this years best headline set so far when he took to the stage at Coachella last month. I have so much love and respect for the artistry shown in this release, He may think nobody’s praying for him, he’s wrong, I’m praying this instant for him to bring the DAMN tour to these British shores.
Please find an hour out of your day and indulge yourself in one of the year’s best releases and please tell us what your thoughts on ‘DAMN’ are in the comments below or if you want to hear Kendrick's thoughts by the man himself, check out his fantastic interview with Zane Lowe at the bottom of the page.
‘So I was taking a walk the other day…..”